Two of Queen Victoria’s daughters married German Princes from Hesse, and they settled in England, using the name Battenberg. When King George V changed his dynastic name to Windsor, his cousins followed suit, changing theirs to ‘Mountbatten’ and renouncing all of their Germanic crowns, titles and honors. George V gave the men British titles as compensation for their action.
Why was this important? For starters, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is a Mountbatten. Philip is also a great-great grandson of Queen Victoria through his mother (which makes him Queen Elizabeth’s third cousin).
And then there was Philip’s uncle, Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979), a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, who was an Admiral, a First Sea Lord, the Earl of Burma, the last Viceroy of India and for you Anglophiles, he was a KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC and FRS. Undeniably one of the most distinguished Englishmen of the 20th century, he was assassinated by the IRA.
However, long before Philip was born, when Louis was a schoolboy, Lt. His Highness Prince Maurice of Battenberg KCVO was killed by German artillery fire on the Broodseinde Ridge in Belgium (coincidentally in the area of the 1917 Passchendaele battlefield). A graduate of Wellington and Sandhurst, he was serving with the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC). He was the only member of any royal family to be killed in action in WW1.
Maurice was the third son of Princess Beatrice and the youngest grandchild of Queen Victoria. As such both King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II were his first cousins.
On the Battenberg side:
- He was a first cousin (once removed) to the current Duke of Edinburgh.
- An uncle, Adm. Prince Louis of Battenberg, was First Sea Lord (1912 to 1914).
- Another uncle was King Alexander I of Bulgaria (1879 to 1886).
- His sister HRH Victoria Eugenie was the Queen of Spain (1906 to 1931).
- His first cousin Lady Louise was the Queen of Sweden (1950 to 1973) and
- He was also a distant cousin of Nicholas II of Russia, through the Tsar’s mother.
There was a strong military tradition with the Battenbergs. Maurice’s father, Prince Henry, was an officer in the Prussian Guards when he met Princess Beatrice. After they married, he was made a Colonel in British service and died in 1896 while serving in the Anglo-Ashanti War. Maurice’s two older brothers also served in WW1: Alexander rose to be a Captain in the Grenadier Guards before he was invalided home in 1916 and Leopold was commissioned in the 8th Hampshires (Princess Beatrice’s Own Isle of Wight Rifles), but since he was a hemophiliac he served in staff jobs.
Princess Beatrice requested that Maurice be buried with his men in what became the Ypres Town Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. A memorial service was held on November 5th at the Chapel Royal in St. James’ Palace, attended by the King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, Prime Minister Asquith and Lord Kitchener. In 1917 a memorial was placed in the Royal Burial Grounds at Frogmore, and there is also a plaque in Winchester Cathedral.
In the family chapel at St. Mildred’s Church Whippingham, on the Isle of Wight, there is a painting of an angel standing over a dying soldier. The work, called “Duty”, was commissioned by Queen Mary.
The KRRC was raised in 1756 in North America. During WW1 twenty-two battalions were raised, quite a few considering that the regiment had no exclusive recruiting area and no Territorials. Seven members of the KRRC were awarded Victoria Crosses during WW1.